Loneliness in College – You’re Not Alone
Sarah Peterman, MSW, LCSW
Clinical Care Consultants
College can be an exciting time in life – you are gaining some independence, figuring out what you want to do for a living, and moving on from the high school social scene. You might be starting to live on your own or to work more hours while also balancing school. You are likely exploring your interests and talents more than you could in high school.
The part that few people talk about, however, is that these years can also be filled with isolation and loneliness. Old friends may be living far away, your schedule might be busier balancing work, school, and family, and it may not be as easy as it once was to make friends. Spending a few hours, a day in classes on campus doesn’t guarantee you will see the same people or have the opportunity to build a group of friends in your college community. And, if you don’t live on campus, there may not be the opportunity to live with or nearby your peers either. All of a sudden you can find yourself feeling friendless and unsure of how to even begin to make new friends in this new environment.
Eleven Steps At Solving Loneliness While At College
1. You Are Not Alone
First of all, know you are not the only one who feels this way. It is common for college students to experience loneliness and uncertainty about making new friends. It’s not something people advertise to others (and you probably don’t either) but there are definitely people out there who feel like you and are searching for new friends too.
2. Meeting New People
Identify ways to meet new people either at the school through clubs, sports, or other extracurricular or outside of the school by considering volunteering, social groups, or other community activities (hint: libraries and recreation centers can be a great place to look.) Even if you are feeling a bit nervous about socializing in this way, taking a small step towards identifying options and putting yourself out there can build your confidence and give you hope that you are on the right path.
3. Keep an Open Mind
Also, try to keep an open mind about who you meet. Be careful to identify assumptions or judgements you make about opportunities to make friends – either about the people available to meet or the situations in which you are willing to engage to gain more social support. A place you never thought you would make friends or a person who you don’t think is interested in a new friendship might be exactly the situation or person who helps you to overcome your loneliness.
4. Challenge Yourself
Challenge yourself to talk to someone who you do see on a somewhat regular basis. Maybe somebody in a class with you or somebody who always seems to be eating lunch at the same time and place as you. Practice how you will introduce yourself and how to maintain some small talk. See what they do to meet people, for fun, and/or ask them to be a study partner or to meet up for lunch sometimes.
5. Take Risks
Share your personal interests, passions, and feelings. People will get to know you and are more likely to open up to you as well. This allows you to identify potential friends or to get support from those around you who might be feeling or thinking something similar. Even if you don’t end up finding a friend, it can help to have somebody verbalize that they understand how you see things.
6. Trying Flying Solo
If you don’t have someone to spend time with, then identify something you like to do and go ahead and do it alone. Chances are you will be in a position to find other people with similar interests when you are engaging in something you enjoy. Then you can challenge yourself to make an introduction and see if that begins to build a friendship.
Additionally, take good care of yourself when you are feeling lonely. It may take time to build new friendships and you will need to take good care of yourself in the meanwhile. Reach out to the supports you do have, spend time doing things which you find relaxing and enjoyable, find a way to connect with the larger community via music, film, books, or television. Read about others who are struggling with similar feelings. Practice meditation. Laugh. Cuddle a pet. Exercise. Treat yourself nicely. Give yourself credit for dealing with the loneliness as best you can and for any attempt to reach out and meet someone new even if it doesn’t immediately result in a new friend.
8. Realizing Nothing is Permanent
Remind yourself that nothing is permanent – you will not be this lonely forever even if it feels that way now. Try to give yourself a break and realize that this is a time of transition. Give yourself permission to take time to adjust to college, new ways of meeting friends, and even to being alone/lonely. Times of loneliness and isolation, while uncomfortable, are chances to grow, identify what is important to you, and build new strengths related to increasing social support.
9. Rule out Depression and/or Anxiety
Occasionally when we are struggling with a transition or feeling loneliness it might be related to depression or anxiety which makes it difficult to go out, introduce ourselves to others, or feel worthy of making new relationships. We might begin to feel badly about ourselves or others as a result of the loneliness and well and fall into depression. If you find that you are feeling too depressed to get out and engage with others, that you no longer are interested in activities, that you are too scared to introduce yourself to others, feel undeserving of relationships, and/or if you are experiencing suicidal or self-harm thoughts then you should consider seeking professional help in managing your feelings of loneliness.
10. Find a Good Therapist
If you’ve tried all of the recommendations to manage loneliness and make friends and continue to struggle then you may benefit from working with a professional. Therapists can help you to challenge negative or fearful thinking, identify ways to cope with feelings of loneliness/sadness/anxiety, and assist in ways to communicate with others to build friendships. Therapists can also help to build a more personalized plan for coping with loneliness and building a network of support. I am available to help you.
11. A Smile Can Be Infectious
Most importantly remember you are not as alone as you feel. Smile at the person next to you in the classroom or the lunch room. Who knows, you might help them with their loneliness too.
As you can see, loneliness can be uncomfortable, but there are many steps you can take to change your current situation and feel more connected. Difficulty feeling connected in the college years is not unexpected and does not mean you are destined to a life of isolation. It may take more effort than it has in the past but there are lots of people out there just waiting to meet you!
If you should need some extra support or help with adjusting to college, please do not hesitate to contact me, as I have plenty of professional experience with these unique challenges.
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